Wednesday, July 27, 2016

As Happy as Clams at High Water

You might not know it to look at me, but I have something major in common with Lincoln.

Neither of us saw the end of "Our American Cousin," although his reason was far more tragic than mine.

The funny part is, when Quill Theater's production first ran last season as part of the historical staged reading series, the performance was stopped at the moment when Booth shot Lincoln. Brilliant, right?

Tonight's reprise performance at Maymont was going to be the entire play, so Mac and I showed up an hour in advance to find a suitable spot on the Carriage House lawn, only for it to start raining gently moments later.

We took refuge under cover with another woman and fell into a discussion about a news item I'd read today saying that after years of schools moving away from teaching cursive handwriting, many schools have gone back to teaching it.

Nuns everywhere are probably celebrating.

"But like Madonna and newspapers, cursive has displayed a gritty staying power, refusing to have its loop de loops and curlicues swept to the dustbin of handwriting history."

I told my friend that it was a Louisiana senator who'd heard from a surveyor that young people couldn't read the handwriting on old documents and been shocked enough to introduce legislation requiring cursive be taught in schools again.

The woman sitting near us then apologized for eavesdropping and joined the conversation. Seems she works at the Library of Virginia where they have an ongoing volunteer project where people can sign up to transcribe old letters in the collection.

And, yep, most of the people who do it are older because they can actually read cursive. So what happens next century, I wonder, when someone happens on a cache of old correspondence and there are no cursive readers left to translate?

But I digress.

Eventually, the rain tapered off, stage hands attempted to sweep the water off the stage and the popular 1858 play could commence, albeit without lights or amplification due to the weather.

The scant audience- we were among the few brave souls who'd come out despite the forecast - obliged by moving our chairs and blankets closer to the stage. Some of us kept our umbrella within easy reach.

Aside from the clear and present danger of seeing multiple actors slipping and sliding on the wet stage, the play was great fun and it became clear within a few minutes that it had to have been written by an Englishman. Naturally, the titular cousin was loud, coarse and vulgar, unaccustomed to bathing and a prodigious consumer of victuals and drink ("I'm as dry as a sap tree in August").

A country bumpkin, in other words, used to life in Brattleboro, Vermont, not the refined drawing room of Trenchard Manor, but an honest and decent man, if nothing else. And so American.

Liz Blake White was the ideal aristocratic daughter, Florence, entitled and dismissive of those she deemed beneath her, quick with asides and eye-rolling to the audience. Even the servants are surprised when she decides to be more than decorative and pleasant to advance the family cause.

You? Grave business? Why, I thought you never had any graver business than being very pretty, very amiable and very ready to be amused.

Nice work if you can get it.

Mac and I were feeling the pain of the women in the cast having to wear heavy hoop skirt dresses - anything for art, right?  - while we sat there in our minimal sundresses, gasping for oxygen like guppies flipped out of their bowls.

Just when things were getting good - what American could resist a sweet dairymaid making cheese and butter, a woman who should have been an heiress? - artistic director Jan Powell arrived in her rain slicker in front of the stage and killed the fun announced that more rain was on the way so the show was over.

Sure, it beats a bullet to the back of the head, but it was still disappointing.

As usual, I was so very ready to continue being amused.


  1. Thanks for braving the elements, Karen! We were bummed, too.

  2. It was so much fun up until then!